Expat Failure — And Three Essential Things to Help Prevent It

Failure is a pretty harsh word. Obviously, nobody likes talking about their own life in terms of failure — although nobody succeeds at everything they try. Even expats can fail, though you might be wondering what this means.

Strictly speaking, the expression “expat failure“ is used in the HR and global mobility industry, as well as in management studies. It refers to expatriates in a narrower sense of the word: highly qualified and highly paid specialists and executives sent on a foreign assignment by their employer.

What’s Expat Failure Anyway, and Why Is It So Expensive?

For foreign assignees, expat failure describes several negative outcomes from what seemed like a great career option: they move back before their assignment is officially over; they underperform in their new position, or they struggle with repatriation after completing their assignment. Sometimes, they are let go or quit themselves after they return.

As foreign assignees are often corporate employees who easily earn more than 100,000 or 200,000 USD a year, the literal costs of failure for the company are often huge. If an expatriate moves with a spouse and two children, receiving considerable financial support from their employer, and then returns prematurely after one year, this could cost the company an estimated 400,000 USD. And the original business goals haven’t even been reached!

The Psychological and Emotional Burden of Expat Failure

Other expats — those who aren’t corporate assignees with a fast-track career and generous remuneration — might not identify with this kind of expatriate failure at first. But it can affect them too: They may return home sooner rather than later. They, too, may struggle in their new job abroad or even quit. They might not like how they feel if or when they do go home, as though their life had gone off the rails.

Although the average expat won’t accrue costs of nearly half a million bucks if their international move doesn’t go according to plan, they have to dig into their own pockets for shipping their belongings, plane tickets, etc. In addition to the financial burden, failure takes an emotional and psychological toll.

That’s what “failed“ assignees and other expats have in common — a feeling of wasted time, lower productivity, a pervasive lack of motivation, and the emotional re-entry shock they may experience after heading home. That’s also why both assignees and everyone else should ask the right questions before they leave!

Preparing for what might await you can help to prevent it.

The Right Soft Skills for Expats-to-Be

The hardest question is the first to consider: are you the right person for the job? You don’t just need the proper hard skills, like management experience for the assignee, professional know-how for the self-made career expat, or language skills for everyone interested in moving abroad. It’s the soft skills too. Without openness to change, independent thinking, and self-reliance, you won’t get far.

But it’s cultural flexibility or agility that matters most: to recognize the best strategy for acting in situations where the outcome depends heavily on cultural context. Should you simply adapt to the context of your new country’s culture? Is it better to stress your own cultural background in this particular situation? Had you rather strive for compromise?

If you can figure out how to react, you’ll smooth out lots of difficulties in your professional and private life.

A Family That Has Your Back

The next question isn’t about you, your personality, or your abilities, but about the people you love best. Is your family onboard?

If they are lukewarm about your plans, it might be time for a long, honest conversation — or for second thoughts. Especially in corporate assignments, it’s an unfortunate truth that the traveling spouse or the kids can make or break an assignment.

While family members also benefit from financial perks, they often suffer from uprooting their lives. Older children lose a familiar environment, their circle of friends, and their budding sense of adult identity, threatening to turn into morose teenagers sulking even more than the average adolescent.

More importantly, the spouse may have to give up her own career and social life for the assignee’s sake. (Yes, it’s also an unfortunate truth that most traveling spouses are women.) This might create isolation, frustration, and resentment. In the worst-case scenario, the result isn’t just a failed assignment, but also a failed marriage.

Even if you are not the typical assignee, make sure that your nearest and dearest have your back. Is your boyfriend or girlfriend okay with the two of you moving abroad together? Or do you think your bond is strong enough to lead an international long-distance relationship for a couple of years?

Will moving abroad affect your decision to have (more) kids, and does this matter strongly to either of you? Are you the only (potential) caretaker of aged parents?

In short: What will happen to your family ties once you move? Of course, everything might go off without a hitch. But you need to be at least prepared for some folks being less than enthusiastic about your relocation.

A Supportive Work Environment

The third and final question is, of course, what kind of support you will receive at work. If your company’s branch office or your new employer abroad is well prepared for your arrival, they will create an environment where you are allowed to ask questions and request help. A personal mentor or sponsor would be ideal, particularly to discuss cultural as well as corporate topics .

If your company doesn’t provide such a mentorship program for new employees and assignees, try being proactive and finding a mentor yourself. In case of a corporate assignment or a foreign company headhunting you, an in-depth discussion with HR could help to convince the uppermost echelons of management.

A smaller company, where you have applied on your own, will probably be more reluctant. Perhaps they don’t have any relevant experience or HR just doesn’t have the resources right now. Then you could still ask a friendly new colleague to aid you in getting your bearings. However, if your new employer reacts with hostility to the very suggestion, this could be a first warning sign.

Have you ever experienced “expat failure” — especially on a foreign assignment? What would you recommend to other expats to prevent it? Share your story with us!

(Image credit: iStock)

Celebrate Your Expat Friendships This July

On 30 July, we celebrate International Day of Friendship, a day to “promote and defend a shared spirit of human solidarity that takes many forms — the simplest of which is friendship”, according to the United Nations. Friendships help to confront crises and challenges, and no matter if these challenges are small and nagging, or big and seemingly insurmountable, friends are there to offer their help and support along the way.

For expats, having a great circle of friends is particularly important to get through the challenges and upheavals which are common in an expat life. When your family and your home country are far away, other expats and global minds can offer a safety net and even become your family abroad.

This month, we celebrate these friendships, new and old, with you. Whether you’re heading to a party with a new friend, or attend a picnic with a global mind you have known for years, our events and activities are the perfect opportunity to keep these friendships alive. However, above all, they are also a great place to meet new people and start new friendships abroad.

Dancing on Rooftops

What better way is there to celebrate friendship than to overcome weekly challenges together. One such challenge is the Sunday night blues. InterNations New York tackled this problem head on with a Sunday Rooftop Rendezvous. On Sunday, 9 July, InterNations members and their friends gathered on a lovely rooftop to enjoy the view and make new connections.

On Friday, 23 June, it was time for beach and fun in Bonn. Our members met at Strandbar, located directly at the Rhine, for a summery get-together. They celebrated their expat friendships over a welcome drink.

On the same day, members in Wiesbaden-Mainz practiced their dancing skills at a Summer Dance Event. Cantina, allegedly the coziest place in Wiesbaden, opened its doors for us to enjoy a fun-filled evening together, complete with dancing lessons in Salsa and Merengue.

Coffee Breaks and Icelandic Sweaters

Have you ever bonded with someone over food? Trying new dishes or sharing recipes from your home country are perfect ways to grow closer together. The Hague Speak Italian Group attended an international food fair together on Saturday, 1 July. The Haagse Wereld Hapjes is a great place to try something new and learn more about the culinary background of your new friends.

While parties are a great way to get out and meet people, many prefer a more relaxed setting. The Stockholm Coffee Break Group, for instance, is made for chatting and sharing stories in comfy coffee shops. On Saturday, 8 July, the group met up for Saturday Morning Fika at an Italian gelateria. Given the rising temperatures, swapping cinnamon rolls for ice cream and sorbets is not a bad idea.

Birthdays are a time to spend with friends, but many of us do not celebrate due to busy schedules. The London Picnic or Afternoon Tea Group gave everyone a reason to celebrate, be it their birthday or not. Group members met on Sunday, 9 July, for a picnic at Regents Park to open some presents and enjoy a few drinks together.

Bonding over local customs which you haven’t quite gotten the hang of yet is a fantastic way to start off a new friendship. On Wednesday, 12 July, our members in Reykjavik had the opportunity to experience an Icelandic tradition with their expat friends: Lopapeysa, or Icelandic sweater, festival. Our members donned their favorite Icelandic sweaters and, with a wonderful view of the old town from Petersen Suite’s rooftop, enjoyed and evening of traditional Icelandic fun.

 International or local, old or new — we want to know how you celebrate your friendships. Tell us more about how you spend time with your friends in the comments.


Image credits: InterNations

The Greatest Reasons to Love Life Abroad

Why do you love expat life? Is it because the world has become your office? Because every day is an adventure? Or because you enjoy discovering new things about our planet and its people?

From 19 June to 3 July, we asked our members on Twitter to let us know why they like living abroad so much. The answers cited above are just a few of the heartfelt and creative responses we received. It was very hard for us to choose the winner of a 100 EUR hotel voucher among the entries, but we would now like to share our favorite reason and what the winner has to say about living abroad.

In fact, we found it so difficult to make our final decision that we are featuring the runner-up as well: both contestants have summed up beautifully what appeals to them about expat life, and they have more words of wisdom for their fellow expatriates in store.

Expat Life: The Chance to Reinvent Yourself

“I love expat life,” our final favorite Apple says, “because I get to reinvent myself over and over, adapting to new countries and cultures every time.”

Apple’s self-described “nomadic existence” began when she was merely four weeks old. Born to an Australian mother and a British father, she spent her childhood in Nigeria, the UK, Australia, Malaysia, and Papua New Guinea.

After attending a secretarial college in England, she succumbed to her wanderlust again, covering almost every continent with her husband: before (more or less) settling in Houston and the US Virgin Islands, she used to live in Trinidad and Tobago, Singapore, Scotland, and Equatorial Guinea. Her two children were born in Thailand and the Netherlands, respectively.

Modern family life probably doesn’t get any more global than that! And with the constant change of place, a process of personal reinvention was almost guaranteed: Apple has worked as a vendor of Scuba diving equipment, an editor for a charity organization, and the Honorary Consul for the UK.

“Always make the most of your opportunities,” she recommends. “We must be willing to step out of our prescribed boundaries and be prepared to grasp unexpected chances.”

Sometimes expats can be a bit too quick to compare and complain, Apple thinks. “It’s far better to embrace the new country, although there will be some things we do not like. Do your homework and be well informed, but don’t be arrogant. An open mind and the willingness to listen can lead to wonderful experiences.

Expat Life: The Chance to Overcome Your Fears

It’s the love of new experiences that Apple and her fellow contest Caterina have in common: “I love expat life,” Caterina states, “because it makes me love the unknown and dream of feeling like home anywhere in the world.”

Although Italian-Venezuelan Caterina has dual citizenship as well, her upbringing wasn’t a “nomadic” one: born and raised in Venezuela, she always loved traveling, though. So, when she turned 18, she left her home country behind and spent two years in Italy, England, and Scotland. Scotland is also the place she now calls home after living there for the past seven years, and not even the changeable weather can faze her.

For Caterina, moving abroad was more about adjustment than reinvention. “When I first moved abroad, I was full of fears,” she remembers, “determined to do it, but also really anxious and doubtful.” Many expats and expats-to-be may recognize that initial nervousness, and Caterina is a great example of why you shouldn’t let such feelings stop you.

“As I experienced what it was actually like to live in Italy, a land far away from home, I realized how adaptable I was and how welcoming other cultures could be. Expat life can make you forget all about your fears. Just learn to love the unknown!

Though Caterina’s initial experiences with expat life were quite different from Apple’s, her words of advice to other expats aren’t.

“I honestly think technology has removed much of the fear associated with going to unfamiliar destinations. Make use of the wonders of the Internet, so you won’t feel too lost. If you get the basics covered, you can simply enjoy your adventure…

… while discovering your very own reasons to love expat life!

Thanks again to everyone to everyone who participated in the contest on our Twitter profile and shared their reasons via #ILoveExpatLifeBecause, and a special thank you to Apple and Caterina for giving us an in-depth interview. Congratulations to Apple on the hotel voucher for her next mini-vacation!

(Image credit: 1) InterNations 2) Apple Gidley 3) Caterina Bassano 4) iStockphoto)

InterNations Joins the XING Family

Our InterNations members and blog readers in Germany may have already heard yesterday’s big news: InterNations is now part of the XING family! In Germany, Austria, and Switzerland, XING is the leading business networking platform.

As we celebrate ten years of making expat life a great experience, this partnership also helps us look ahead to the next ten years and beyond. With this change of ownership and increased resources, we want to reach more global minds and create an even better experience for our members!

Though the owners have changed, our team, mission, and community will remain the same. We’ll continue to be our members’ companion throughout their adventures abroad, but will draw upon XING’s experience to improve and expand what we offer, so stay posted!

Expat Life for Introverts: The Best Way to Thrive Abroad

First things first: When we’re talking introverts, we are not talking about shy, awkward, or antisocial people. Some introverts are shy and deeply dislike such situations as speaking before a large audience or being the life of the party, but by no means all.

Most introverts have perfectly fine social skills — even great ones. A few may have simply lacked the opportunity to develop them since they have always tended to avoid too much social interaction.

This preference to withdraw into themselves is not a sign that introverts suffer from anti-social tendencies and don’t like other people. An introvert is simply a person who often finds being around other people exhausting rather than stimulating and who values their alone time highly.

Are All Expats Extroverts?

What’s the definition of introvert got to go with expat life? Actually, quite a lot. Living abroad — especially the moving process and settling in period — is like an overdose of social overstimulation.

You have to introduce yourself to new neighbors, meet new colleagues, and rebuild your business and personal network from scratch. To get the move done, you also have to interact with complete strangers all the time.

Moreover, quite a few introverts appreciate a sense of structure or are happy to describe themselves as a bit of a homebody. Becoming an expat, however, means embracing upheaval and venturing out into the world.

Therefore, it’s easy to imagine all expatriates as classic extroverts — spontaneous, action-oriented, and outgoing: in short, the type of person who’ll keep a whole crowd entertained with their jokes and travel anecdotes at the nearest pub on a Friday night.

Are introverts thus doomed to “fail” at life abroad? Of course not. Some things might even come more naturally to them. For example, since they are frequently very focused on their tasks and don’t take decision-making lightly, they probably consider planning and organizing an international relocation an intriguing challenge.

But what about the rest?

Don’t Forget about Enough Me Time

Above all else, introvert expats should make sure to set aside enough me time for regularly recharging their batteries. This applies particularly to those moving to a culture where group-oriented interaction is highly valued or to one where there is a different concept of personal space: even standing or sitting too far away from another person might be interpreted as aloof or rude.

Obviously, you can’t try to change your host country’s culture — that would be like fighting windmills anyway. Introverts have to grit their teeth and bear it until they become a little more used to an unfamiliar environment.

This makes it necessary to look for even more occasions than usual to unwind on their own: exploring a residential neighborhood in your new city or going for a quiet walk in a local park will do the trick just well as staying at home with your yoga mat or movie collection.

Go for Structured Activities in Small Groups

As said above, introverts do most emphatically not dislike other people. They just prefer certain forms of socializing to others. If you look for structured activities in small groups (or with only one other person) that have a fixed end date, you will find it easier to build new professional and private networks.

At work, get to know your new colleagues on a one-on-one basis or in a smaller setting. Perhaps you could schedule several individual business lunches, so you won’t be overwhelmed by interacting with a large, new-to-you group at your first team event.

A workshop or seminar from your field of expertise is also another suitable way of networking within or outside the company. It caters to introverts’ powers of observation and concentration. Huge meet-and-greet mixers or speed networking are no-goes, though: too many people, too much superficial small talk. That’s not the kind of setting to make introverts feel comfortable or let them shine.

Similarly, it helps to find a smaller group of people that organizes activities around a shared hobby. While this might not immediately lead to the deep, meaningful conversations introverts love best, at least you’ll soon get to have in-depth conversations about your favorite interests. Just leave the somewhat tiresome small-talk phase behind!

Let Your True Strengths Shine

Last but not least, play to your strengths: introverts are usually good listeners, as well as loyal employees, reliable co-workers and business contacts, and steadfast friends. Since it takes them lots of energy to cultivate interpersonal relationships, they tend to focus on those they consider “worth it”, valuing quality over quantity.

There’s a distinct advantage to this trait in expat life: international colleagues may quit; friendships within the expat community can sometimes be fleeting. While it’s easy to overlook the quiet, withdrawn, or absent-minded introvert at first, in the ever-changing expat world, they may end up becoming a highly appreciated steadying presence.

(Image credit: iStockphoto)